Barcelona, located on the northern Mediterranean coast of Spain, is undoubtedly the most cosmopolitan and economically active city in the country. Barcelona has been an urban laboratory since the High Middle Ages. It is a place of diversity, a backdrop for a multiplicity of social and cultural processes on multiple scales that reflect different ways of constructing the future, a city with a long experience of urban life and social innovations. This is a city that has constantly reinvented itself. The early industrial era, the periods of strife such as the Tragic Week of 1909 and the May Day of 1937, the Spanish Civil War, the transition to democracy, the 1992 Olympics, and present-day cultural activity all show how Barcelona has experienced new ways of reclaiming the city for its citizens. Its history is reflected by its urban layout and in the way that it continues to take shape. Barcelona has a long history and there are monuments from the Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance periods and even earlier, but the most characteristic architecture dates from the last 150 years. Barcelona is a centre of Modernista architecture and is especially distinguished by the works of Antoni Gaudí, who together with his great contemporaries gave the city a new and exciting look, while remaining at the pinnacle of modernity since then.
A little bit about the history of Barcelona
The first human settlements in Barcelona date back to Neolithic times. The city itself was founded by the Romans, who set up a colony called Barcino at the end of the 1st century BC. The colony had about a thousand inhabitants and was bounded by a defensive wall, the remains of which can still be seen in the old town. For over 200 years, Barcelona was under Muslim rule. Later, following the Christian reconquest, it became a county of the Carolingian Empire and one of the main residences of the court of the Crown of Aragon. During its fruitful medieval period Barcelona became the economic and political centre of the Western Mediterranean. The city’s Gothic Quarter bears witness to the splendour enjoyed by the city from the 13th to the 15th centuries. From the 15th to 18th centuries Barcelona entered a period of decline while it struggled to maintain its economic and political independence. This struggle ended in 1714, when the city fell to the Bourbon troops and the rights and privileges of Catalonia and its citizens were suppressed. A period of cultural revival began in the mid-19th century with the arrival and expansion of the textile industry. During this period, which was known as the Renaixença, Catalan regained prominence as a literary language. The 20th century ushered in widespread urban renewal throughout Barcelona, culminating in the landmark Eixample district, which showcases some of Barcelona’s most distinctive Modernista (Catalan art nouveau) buildings. One of the most eminent architects was the Catalan Antoni Gaudí, who designed buildings such as Casa Milà (known as “La Pedrera”, the Catalan for “stone quarry”), Casa Batlló and the Sagrada Família church, which have become world-famous landmarks. The freedoms won during this period were severely restricted following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and the subsequent dictatorship. With the reinstatement of democracy in 1978, Barcelona society recovered its economic strength and the Catalan language was restored. The city’s hosting of the 1992 Olympic Games gave fresh impetus to Barcelona’s development and reaffirmed its status as a major metropolis. In 2004, the Forum of Cultures reclaimed industrial zones to convert them into residential districts – an example of the renewed vigour with which Barcelona has embraced the 21st century.